I’ve written about it before, but e-waste is the fastest-growing stream of waste in the world.  Rapid technological advancement means that tens of millions of obsolete devices, gadgets and appliances get thrown out every year.  An increasing demand for the newest technologies and their shortening lifespans means that the e-waste trend is only going to grow.  Apart from being simply wasteful, disposing of e-waste is a major health and environmental hazard.  Therefore, the rising crisis has led to a growing number of people to ask what consumers should do with their old iPhones and laptops.  Should they just shove them in the back of the closet?  Bring them to the dumpster?  Burn them in the back yard?  Recycle them?

If you answered the latter, then you were right.  Electronic devices contain highly valuable metals; the EPA has estimated that for every 1 million cell phones recycles we can get 5,724 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium.  But tragically, electronic devices rarely get a second life, instead being sent to landfills or exported illegally.  A recent UN study has reported that 41.8 million tons of e-waste were discarded in 2014, up to 90 percent of which was traded illegally or dumped.  

Carelessly disposing electronic devices endangers the data security and privacy of consumers, not to mention the health of the environment and the local community.  When electronic devices are thrown into landfills or illegally exported, hackers get a chance to obtain sensitive information such as credit card, bank account and Social Security numbers.  Electronics also contain numerous toxins that can leach into the ground when tossed into a landfill, contaminating water sources and threatening communities.  This only emphasizes the importance of adopting responsible recycling practices.

The first key to responsible recycling is education, empowering consumers to take charge of their e-waste.  A major forces in this task are local governments, manufacturers and retailers.  Through partnerships with recyclers, they can disseminate information on these electronic devices and dispose of them in an easy and straightforward way.  Both Staples and Best Buy offer buy-back and mail-in programs, and Dell has partnered with Goodwill to offer free e-waste drop-off to consumers.  A growing number of local governments have also been involved, such as New York City’s e-cycle NYC program, which has provided more than 1 million New Yorkers with e-waste pickup and recycling at no charge to taxpayers.  

Yet these various programs don’t mean that consumers should just wait for other businesses and local governments to follow suit.  Without much difficulty, they can focus on the end-of-life of their current devices; once an electronic device breaks, is upgraded or otherwise rendered obsolete, then consumers can lessen the environmental and data risk it poses by partnering with electronic recyclers.  

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